Neuroscientists keep looking for new ways to peer at the activity in the human brain, and at the University of Illinois Beckman Institute’s Cognitive Neuroimaging Laboratory they are using very intense near-infrared illumination to measure neuronal activity in the cortex:

The EROS is a new non-invasive brain imaging method that we are developing at the CNL. Our research has determined that this technique possesses a unique combination of spatial and temporal resolution. This makes it possible to use EROS to measure the activity in localized cortical areas. For this reason, EROS can be used to analyze the relative timing of activity in different areas, to study the order of recruitment of different cortical areas, and to examine the connections between areas. These are all questions that are difficult to study with other brain imaging methods.

Gabriele Gratton and Monica Fabiani are the neuroscientists working on the project. The measurement process can actually penetrate several centimeters into the cortex. The EROS system can measure very short intervals of activity – down to the millisecond level.

The speed of the technique distinguishes its results from fMRI scans, which take about a second, and even longer PET scans. While the depth may be limiting for some needs, the speed may make the technique useful for tasks like seeing how complex visual information is processed. It’s too early to tell what useful information can be derived from the novel technique, or (from our viewpoint) it might ever be relevant to marketing analysis; nevertheless, it’s clear that the technique is quite different from others, and may at least become a specialty tool for measuring short-duration events.

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